Inquiry hears good, bad of trawler use

Factory trawlers are depleting fish stocks and killing protected species in Australian waters as part of an industry that is not being properly managed, a Senate committee inquiry has been told.

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But while sector representatives admit it is inevitable that dolphins and seals will sometimes get caught in nets, they insist it’s important that the practice be allowed to continue.

A hearing in Hobart on Friday focused on the impact of trawlers taking hauls from waters up to 200m below the surface, categorised as the small pelagic fishery.

Environment Tasmania spokeswoman Rebecca Hubbard said the current management plan overseen by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is not based on science and takes a random approach.

“Localised depletion is neither being monitored nor managed, nor is there a plan to fix it if it does occur after the large factory trawler has been operating,” she said.

“Even short-term intensive fishing by these vessels can create localised depletion and have an impact on game fishing, recreational fishing, eco-tourism and other species.”

But Seafish Tasmania, the operators of controversial freezer ship the Geelong Star, insist fish stocks are being carefully monitored, including the work of an on-board AFMA observer.

“The Geelong Star is fishing in some areas that have experienced little or no fishing effort in the past,” Seafish Tasmania’s submission said.

“Because of this lack of previous fishing activities there is a limited amount of scientific information on distribution and abundance of some species in these areas.”

During its time in Australian waters the Geelong Star has incidentally captured nine dolphins, but in more than 100 trips since June, none of the creatures have ended up in the vessel’s nets.

The Small Pelagic Fishery Industry Association said exceptional progress has been made in recent months to prevent the capture of protected marine species.

But there was also a stark admission.

“It is unrealistic to expect that no dolphin or seal mortalities will occur,” the group said in its submission to the committee.

Ms Hubbard dismissed the mitigation measures.

“The devices they’re using haven’t been proven,” she said.

“The barrier net that’s being used, there’s no underwater monitoring to prove that it’s actually preventing the deaths of protected species and not just harming them and dumping them underwater without being seen.”

The committee is due to report back on August 24.